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Cruising The Past: Santa Fe’s all Pullman SUPER CHIEF – The train of the Stars!


The all-Pullman SUPER CHIEF… the media covered all the stars arriving on this famous train.

The Super Chief was one of the named passenger trains and the flagship of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. It was often referred to as “The Train of the Stars” because of the many celebrities who traveled on the streamliner between Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California.


An elegant all-Pullman train dining car.  Passengers didn’t wear t-shirts or baseball caps.

The train was also one of America’s “boat trains” — connecting Hollywood with New York City and the trans-Atlantic steamship liners such as the NORMANDIE, QUEEN MARY, QUEEN ELIZABETH, UNITED STATES, AMERICA… from New York to Europe in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Through Pullman cars operated from Los Angeles to New York via Chicago on the Santa Fe and New York Central deluxe all-Pullman trains. Services included barbers, maids, train secretaries and Fred Harvey dining service on the Super Chief.


The Super Chief’s schedule in the Official Railway Guide – 1958. 

The streamlined Super Chief (assigned train Nos. 17 & 18) was the first Diesel-powered, all-Pullman sleeping car train in America, and it eclipsed the Chief as Santa Fe’s standard bearer. The extra-fare Super Chief-1 commenced its maiden run from Dearborn Station in Chicago on May 12, 1936. Just over a year later, on May 18, 1937 the much-improved Super Chief-2 traversed the 2,227.3 miles (3,584.5 kilometers) from Los Angeles over recently upgraded tracks in just 39 hours and 49 minutes (averaging 60.8 miles-per-hour (98.0 km/h), often exceeding 100 miles-per-hour in the process).


Pullman service and Super Chief style will never be achieved by Amtrak…

From that day forward the Super Chief set a new standard for luxury rail travel in America. With only one set of equipment, the train initially operated but once a week from both Chicago and Los Angeles. However, at the height of its popularity, and with added equipment, the trains of the Super Chief made daily departures from both ends of the line. Adding to the train’s mystique were its gourmet meals and Hollywood clientèle.


“Top of the Super” — next to the stars!

cityoflosangeles.jpgUnion Pacific’s THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES – competing with the SUPER CHIEF.

Direct competitors to the Super Chief during its lifetime were the City of Los Angeles, a streamlined passenger train jointly operated by the Chicago and North Western Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad, and (to a lesser extent) the Golden State, a streamlined passenger train jointly operated by the Rock Island and Southern Pacific railroads.


SUPER CHIEF at Albuquerque…

Santa Fe’s route from Chicago to Los Angeles was the lengthiest of the high-speed; long distance trains of the day, making its way through mostly sparsely populated areas (which enhanced the train’s already distinctive aura).


The SUPER CHIEF and other Pullman trains provide deluxe service due to their excellent crews. Pictured here is the Pullman Conductor, Porters, Maid and the Barber. Additional crew aboard these great trains would have included the train Conductor, Brakeman, Chefs, Cooks, Kitchen staff, Dining Car Waiters and Stewards along with a Nurse-Stewardess and train Secretary. 

The Santa Fe Super Chief was one of the last passenger trains in the United States to carry an all-Pullman consist, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broadway Limited, Pittsburgher and Illinois Central’s Panama Limited survived longer. The train maintained its legendary high level of service until the end of Santa Fe passenger operations on May 1, 1971.


In Alfred Hitchcock’s wonderful thriller “Strangers on a Train” – Robert Walker and Farley Granger are having lunch in Walker’s Pullman compartment. The vialed homosexual relationship between Walker and Granger’s characters in Patricia Highsmith’s novel were censored in Hitchcock’s film.


Classic trains were seen in hundreds of films up until the late 50s. One of the last films featuring a major train was Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” – Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are seen in her compartment aboard New York Central’s 20th Century Limited ready to spend the night.

When Amtrak took over operation of the nation’s passenger service on May 1, 1971 it ended the 35-year run of the Super Chief on the Santa Fe, though Amtrak would continue to use the name along the same route for another three years. In 1974 the Santa Fe forced Amtrak to drop the train’s name due to a perceived decline in service.


The Lounge Car on Amtrak’s SOUTHWEST CHIEF. Notice the trash barrel in the foreground. This would never have been found on the Super Chief or any other classic train.

Amtrak replaced the train over the same route with its Southwest Limited.  Following the delivery of new Superliner equipment, the Santa Fe compromised with Amtrak and the train became known as the Southwest Chief in 1984.

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